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I bought my copy of Damming the Osage almost as soon as I heard it was available, and I’ve been reading at it ever since. It’s not the sort of book that compels you to finish it in a single sitting. In fact, I almost feel that each of the chapters is better read in isolation, because it’s a big book that tries to manage a total picture of the Osage River valley, from prehistory to the present day, with a focus on the two massive dam projects (Bagnell and Truman) that have permanently altered the natural and human environment of that part of the Ozarks.

I learned an immense amount from this book. There are vignettes in it about unique geographical features that made me want immediately to jump in the car and drive to see. The history of the sordid financial machinations that led to the building of Bagnell Dam, and the political machinations that led to the building of Truman Dam, should serve as a cautionary tale for anyone who steps into the swirling waters of development politics. I will be pulling this book from my shelf to look up a fact or a photo for years to come.

That being said, I didn’t find it completely satisfying. It opts for more photos rather than fewer (both historical images and Payton’s own work), and as a result a lot of them are fairly small. I would have preferred larger editing of the photos for display at the cost of leaving out some of the redundant ones. Some of the photos take up a whole page, and the impact of those big ones is rewarding. I have the same complaint about the text. This is an ambitious book, and in its ambition sometimes feels as though it’s trying to cram in every last detail and insight at the expense of narrative flow. The typeface looks like Helvetica medium to me (didn’t look it up to be certain, sorry), and more than 300 pages of that typeface is an invitation to eyestrain.

All in all, though, it’s a wonderful addition to my Ozarkiana shelf. The Paytons have amassed a remarkable collection of historical images such as advertising posters, postcards, and the like, and they put them to excellent use here.

By odd coincidence, a copy of another classic Ozarks river book–Oliver Schuchard and Steve Kohler’s Two Ozark Rivers–showed up on my doorstep last night, and I’ll give some thoughts about it in a later post. In fact, I think I’ll start a new series of posts to go along with my “Favorite Ozarks People – Places – Images” series, of reflections on Ozarks books. Consider this No. 1 in that series.

I definitely recommend this book. You can order it here: http://www.dammingtheosage.com/

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